Working successfully with your language professional

There are a number of things to keep in mind when working with translators and other communications professionals.

Whenever possible, finalize the text to be translated or edited or have a clear outline of the text you need written before giving the job to a translator, editor, or writer. The more versions of a draft-in-progress that change hands, the greater the possibility  of errors cropping up in the final version. If you must involve an external communications professional in an unfinished project, be sure to note the time and date on each file sent and received.

When asking for a quote, be specific about the word count, the number of charts and graphs to be handled, the technology required to do the work, and the deadline. Remember that the word count function of Microsoft Word does not  automatically count text included in headings and footnotes. As many texts have extensive footnotes, a full word count should be provided to translators to enable them to provide you with an accurate and comprehensive bid.

Clearly explain to the translator, editor, or writer you have contracted the purpose of the proposed text, the format it will appear in, and its intended audience. These factors will greatly determine the vocabulary, style, phrasing, and syntax the professional employs in handling the text. Understanding the context in which a text will be employed is important in conveying the information in a suitable manner to an intended public.

It is often jokingly stated that the British and the Americans are two peoples divided by a common language (which is an understatement that doesn’t take into account the linguistic peculiarities of millions of other native English speakers around the world). It is important to take local and regional differences in vocabulary, spelling, and style into account in preparing a text for a number of reasons.

British and American rules for style and punctuation differ, and there are various systems in English for organizing bibliographies and footnotes. In the case of materials to be published, it’s good practice to tell the translator, editor, or writer what sector the text is intended for and the name of the periodical or website the finished text will appear in. The European Union, the United Nations, and other international institutions, agencies, and bodies also have their own protocols for documents and communications written in, and translated into, English.

Even the simplest of technical terms and expressions may vary from one English-speaking country to another. What is the bonnet of a car in England is the hood in the United States. What an American knows as a wrench, a Brit calls a spanner. Localization (or localisation), the process of tailoring a widely spoken language for a target geographic area, is an important and growing industry. Nevertheless, the globalization of business, education, science, medicine, philanthropy, transport, and many other sectors increasingly calls for a clear and concise “international” English understandable to both native and non-native English speakers the world over.

If your company or organization has an established glossary of standard terms and translations to be used for all its communications, it should be shared with contracted external communications professionals to avoid errors, inconsistencies, and time lost in final in-house editing and correction. If you haven’t established glossaries and guidelines for internal and external communications, it might be a good idea to propose this project at a future staff meeting.

In-house communications departments should consider external communications providers, including translators, collaborators rather than intruders. As translator must read a text very carefully, taking apart each phrase in order to reconstruct it in a new language,  occasionally he or she will find weaknesses or errors in the original text that have gone unnoticed. Think of editors, proofreaders and translators as freelance members of your quality assurance team.

Messages from external editors and translators concerning possible problems with the original text should be welcomed, not discouraged. The ATA guide quotes a convinced client who has benefitted from translators’ questions and feedback: “We try to wait for our texts to come back from the translators before going to press with the original French,” says the chief economist of a major bank in Paris. “The reason is simple: our translators track our subjects closely. Their critical eye helps us identify weak spots in the original.”

Whenever possible, request that the professional who translated, edited, or wrote the text proofread the typeset copy before it goes to press or review the text as it appears in your website before it is made public. Do not finalize any changes by telephone. Errors in punctuation and spelling will not be identified by this method. If you proofread the typeset copy or website in-house, make certain that a qualified native speaker is involved in the review process.